Yams. They're not just for Thanksgiving anymore. Feminist performance artist Karen Finley has politicized the lowly tuber and invested it with implications sure to outrage the fainthearted.
In a 50-minute performance titled "Yams" presented last weekend at LACE, the 30-year-old artist inserted the aforementioned vegetable into an unlikely orifice while delivering an X-rated monologue littered with obscenities. Sounds like as much fun as a kick in the head, you protest?
Well, say what you will about Finley--and the entire gamut of things has been said--she has a shrewd understanding of the baser aspects of human nature. She sold out three shows last weekend and probably could've done twice the business.
Dressed in a tacky green formal, which she subsequently shredded and smeared with liverwurst, ice cream, and of, course, yams, Finley threw protocol to the wind and laid bare the perverted sex, violence, incest and tragic miscommunication which she perceives to be hanging like a poisoned fog over contemporary life. She delivers her sermon with all the filth that she feels the subject matter deserves, and much of what she says is difficult to take.
Finley's politics are doubly disturbing in light of the fact that she's an attractive woman who could easily lay claim to the spoils available to any pretty girl. Finley, however, has chosen to travel an unorthodox road--not because society has shut her out, but because it's inconceivable to her that anyone would want to live the bogus nightmare commonly referred to as the American Dream.
Finley's unnatural act has made her something of a cause celebre in her hometown of New York, and though it's nice that she has champions defending her work--which, difficult though it may be to imagine, is not without merit--the brouhaha that's erupted around her is turning her into something of a freak.
Though the central idea behind her work is as yet slightly out of focus, she makes a number of cogent points, and there is great tenderness in her work. Unfortunately, most of the thrill seekers who turned up at LACE came to see her do the bit with the yams--a fact Finley is well aware of. "They're having yam parties in Cambridge," she deadpanned at one point. Tittering nervously throughout the duration of the piece, the crowd managed to distance itself from the more disturbing implications of the performance and still got to see what it came for.
At this point, the meat of Finley's message is being upstaged by a side dish. It's a glitch in her act that she'll have to resolve lest she be relegated a one-trick pony.